© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2019

Rural mental health in New Zealand

Courtney Winter
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The number of people in rural areas with mental health is continuing to grow. Courtney Winter

Farmers are becoming more open about their mental health however, they still don't have enough support.


Farming in New Zealand is never easy, farmers are constantly battling against changes in weather, the effects of being isolated and fluctuating prices.

They farm because that's what they love to do but the number of people struggling with mental illness in rural areas is increasingly growing. 

On one side there are family, friends, neighbours, agricultural and health organisations, determined to fight back and not let mental distress get the upper hand.

But on the front line are the farmers, predominantly men, who sometimes find it hard to cope with the pressure of keeping afloat in a highly competitive industry.

“The figures around rural suicides are quite alarming, you will read of a farmer being killed by a quad bike but for every farmer killed by a quad bike, there are around 5 or 6 farmers who commit suicide, so its something quite major, one too many”. - Doug Archbold, retired rural counselor.


Provisional data from the Ministry of Justice released under the Official Information Act reveals 20 farmers took their own lives in the year ending June 30, 2018.

Eighteen of these deaths were men and six were aged 15-24. The Waikato was the highest of any region, this data shows there hasn't been a decline in the number of people in a rural community, in the last five years.

The State of the Rural Nation Survey found around 70 percent of rural New Zealanders say they have felt increased stress over the five years from 2013 till 2018. 54 percent attributing financial pressures as the main reason. Environmental factors affecting work and livelihoods came second at 49 percent.

 

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Awareness around mental health in Rural New Zealand Wikimedia Commons

Gerard Vaughan manager at Farmstrong, a nationwide well-being program for farmers, says the stigma around farmers needing to be tough has caused many to ignore and wait years before doing anything about their mental health. For most farmers what they do is hard to predict and out of their control.

Vaughan says " They are mentally and physically busy all the time, constantly worried about what is happening on the farm the next day and over a while that will take a toll on their mental health". 

A new research study found that farmers under 35 want to invest more in their wellbeing.

Workload, fatigue, relationships, sleep, and time off-farm, are some of the main wellbeing challenges facing younger farmers today. The study, done by Farmstrong, found that 64% of younger farming men and 77% of women reported that at least one wellbeing issue had a large impact on their life.

“They are the future of farming and despite the ups and downs of the industry, there is so much they enjoy about it. Knowing that 84% of women and 74% of men are saying they want to invest in ways to improve their wellbeing is really pleasing” says Vaughan.

Farmstrong and other health organisations want to be able to normalise the conversation around rural mental health.

Farmers are an important asset on the farm, for them to be able to develop small but regular habits that invest in their wellbeing means they will have plenty to draw on during challenging times.

 

 

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Wayne started up YOLO farmer to help himself get through his depression. Wayne Langford

Dairy farmer Wayne Langford speaks about his journey through depression as a YOLO experience and how it got him out of the rut that he was in.

"So for me, it was many afternoons in bed and I stopped socialising with my friends. I found it really hard to make a decision on the farm, even things like where I was going to put the cows the next day was quite difficult".

As part of his recovery he aimed to post on social media every day for a year, which has carried on for over that year and is now on around day 840. Posting on social media meant people are able to follow along and hear his journey. 

"Farmers need to understand that it is quite common to struggle with mental health and a lot of people go through it at a stage in their lives. Rural communities are normally small, it's like a herd of cows if you've got a smaller herd of cows and you're the one that stands out its a difficult space to be in".

Langford says "If you are struggling, just tell someone you know because it's a hell of a lot easier working on it with someone and you'll find when your working through it feels like a massive weight on your shoulder but as soon as you tell someone else you half that problem and help carry that burden for you".


Where to get help.

If you are worried about your mental health or that of someone close to you, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. If it is an emergency or you, or someone you know, is at risk call 111 immediately.

Or you can call on of the following services.

 

Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254

1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)